Bridges: form & function

A drive into Harrisburg typically requires using a bridge over the Susquehanna–the boiler-plate workhorse that carries 81, or the modest Harvey Taylor, or my favorite, the gentrified Market Street bridge, with its fancy lights and stone walls above and dramatic arches below. We go under bridges when we drop the kayaks into the Yellow Breeches, three at least, depending on the length of the trip. Each one is different, each one a delight.

What amazes me with these structures is that they could have been so different. To work, a bridge only needs basic, sturdy ingredients: wood, steel, cement. But most of the bridges we encounter: they’re art. Whether it’s stacked stone or textured concrete, the engineers and tradespeople responsible for these bridges made sure those walking or driving would have something worth looking at.

The skills required and care given is impressive, but there’s more than aesthetics–or architecture or engineering, for that matter–in play with these spans. I’m intrigued by what they stand for, too. Bridges protect, as motorcyclists seeking shelter during downpours know, but their primary function is to connect, to make ways smooth and travel less circuitous. One of the places I visit took me over a bridge that the state shut down for repairs; that work meant a huge detour that annoyed locals for years. When finally the new construction was finished, all who used it remembered again how nice it is to get where you want to go without much fuss. Bridges make that possible.

This matter of connection is functional; it’s also a powerful symbol. I’m preparing for  a wedding this weekend, and so I’m thinking of metaphors like this. We talk about windows and walls in relationships, but bridges make for good images as well, because of how they suggest the value in spanning the gaps of personality, experience, training or preference that otherwise can separate us. So I’m glad for frequent, vivid reminders.

One thought on “Bridges: form & function

  1. Thoughtful post. It’s interesting how many dimensions a bridge intersects. Side to side, under and over, also before and after (as in water that passes under a bridge). I wonder how many metaphors give us that many vectors/relationships to choose from.

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